Peace and quiet

Phil Brown of Pilkington explores the reasons why filtering out noise pollution is becoming more important for homeowners and renters.

Insulating building interiors against noise is a necessity for many new commercial builds like airports, city offices, bars and restaurants. However, noise control glazing is now becoming more and more popular for residential properties too. Homeowners are looking to filter out the increasingly noisy outside world, with property developers and landlords acknowledging the importance of sound insulation, especially for high-end developments.

This increase in popularity may come as no surprise to those living in city centre properties or houses in urbanised neighbourhoods. City residents battle against everything from 24/7 traffic and noisy nightlife, to the sound of early morning deliveries. Being able to filter out the noise of the city can be a real blessing for such residents.

Regulations

For developers, insulating a house or flat against external sound can also give the home a competitive edge over other properties on the market. To support this, there is a new international standard under development that may help (or hinder) property owners marketing their property based on acoustic insulation.

The acoustic classification scheme currently in development for dwellings, ISO 19488 Acoustics, could introduce a classification scheme to make it easier for developers to specify acoustic requirements for new-build homes. An approach could be introduced into national Building Regulations, and may even be applicable to older properties after renovations have taken place.

The classification scheme proposes six classes, class A being the highest and class F the lowest. For each class, limit values are given for airborne sound insulation (traffic sounds, speech and music), impact sound pressure level (footsteps, jumping and dropped objects), and noise from service equipment.

A property that achieves the highest classification (A) would be expected to provide a high level of protection, and would be a necessity for homes under flight paths or near music venues. Meanwhile, under normal circumstances, without too much restriction to the behaviour of occupants (like an inner-city apartment), class B should provide good protection. The lowest class (F) is described in the standard as offering no protection against intruding sounds, which could make the property fairly undesirable to potential occupants, unless it was in the countryside perhaps.

In the suburbs, specifying building elements like noise-control glazing is more of a necessity for homes under flightpaths, near rail lines or busy main roads. However, some suburban homeowners are simply looking to get some peace and quiet from the subtler causes of noise pollution, such as the babble from the nearby pub, barking neighbourhood dogs or even from the chorus of lawnmowers on a Sunday.

People are increasingly working from home too. In fact, in the UK, more than 1.5 million people are doing so, adding to the need for homes to be a space uninterrupted by distracting noise.

While improving a property’s sound insulation creates less nuisance for residents, it also has the potential to provide important health benefits. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in five Europeans are regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could damage health. The World Health Organisation’s guidelines for community noise state that bedroom noise during the night should be less than 30 dB(A) for a sleep of ‘good quality’. However, 44 per cent of the population in EU countries are said to be exposed to road traffic noise exceeding 55 dB(A). That’s similar to trying to get to sleep in a fairly busy restaurant environment.

Acoustic laminated glass

Windows and doors can often be the part of a building envelope that is most susceptible to noise transmission. This means the ISO standard in development could have a real influence in guiding specifiers towards glazing and insulating glass units (IGUs) that have better noise control properties.

Specifying the right glazing can offer huge gains in sound insulation. While ordinary IGUs offer some noise control benefits, the best insulation is achieved by using an acoustic laminated glass, which controls noise by absorbing sound energy within the glass. The distance between panes helps too, particularly for secondary glazing, where the larger the gap between the panes, the better the insulation.

Achieving improved sound insulation using windows doesn’t mean homeowners have to compromise on energy efficiency of glazing. Noise control glazing can be combined with other products for a multi-functional noise reduction IGU, providing additional benefits such as: thermal insulation, solar control and self-cleaning glass.

The future

Although still in development and subject to change, by the end of autumn we should have a clearer picture of whether ISO 19488 will come into effect. If and when this standard is published, it could provide a framework for differentiation of one dwelling from another in terms of sound insulation. Either way, considering the wellbeing benefits, developers should regard noise control to be equally as important as energy-efficiency in noisier neighbourhoods.

Soon, we could see house buyers and renters selecting where they choose to live on the basis of how quiet their new home will be, as well as its energy performance, proximity to schools, commute times, etc. Quieter homes are about to make a lot more noise.

Phil Brown is European regulatory marketing manager at Pilkington UK